A senior citizen in Burlington County died of West Nile Virus, the first such death in New Jersey this year, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported Friday.
The elderly man, who had tested positive for West Nile Virus after coming down with a fever, fatigue and respiratory distress, died earlier this week, state officials said.
While he is the only death thus far, there are now 15 confirmed West Nile Virus cases in New Jersey, according to the DEP. The 15 cases of West Nile Virus have occurred in 12 counties: Bergen (1), Burlington (1), Camden (1), Essex (2), Gloucester (1), Hudson (1), Mercer (1), Middlesex (1), Monmouth (1), Ocean (3), Passaic (1) and Salem (1).
“This is peak West Nile Virus season and, like the rest of the nation, high mosquito activity is contributing to the spread of the virus,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said in a statement. “Residents should protect themselves by using repellent, wearing long sleeves, long pants and by removing standing water on their property that breeds mosquitoes.”
A 42-year-old Voorhees man on Aug. 22 visited his personal physician with fever, body aches and a rash, according to Camden County officials. He was not hospitalized and has since recovered from the mosquito bite that he believes he received while visiting Cape May County.
Specimens collected from the Voorhees man tested positive for West Nile Virus at the Public Health Environmental Laboratories in Trenton, according to a statement issued by Camden County Friday afternoon.
Besides the one confirmed human case in Gloucester County, officials said four birds have been sent in for lab testing since the start of the season in mid-April; one has tested positive so far. Residents who find dead crows or blue jays on their property can contact the Gloucester County Department of Health at 856-218-4170 to have the birds tested, so long as the bodies haven't deteriorated.
The county Public Works mosquito force is continuing to monitor and test pools where mosquitoes have been found, county spokeswoman Debra Sellitto said, and individual areas are targeted from there.
Preventative measures have also been taken by the county, including where the bugs breed.
West Nile Virus is transmitted to horses and humans when they are bitten by infected mosquitoes. The virus generally causes no symptoms or only mild flu-like symptoms. However, those over 50 years old or those with a compromised immune system are at a higher risk of more severe disease.
West Nile Virus has also been detected in the Asian tiger mosquito, which is troubling because, unlike other mosquitoes, it can thrive in relatively small amounts of water. The Asian tiger mosquito also feeds during the day, in addition to dusk and dawn.
“Our county mosquito commission checks a few thousand mosquito breeding sites on a regular basis. This keeps the mosquito population low and breaks up the cycles where diseases are spread from various animals to humans by a mosquito bite,” Nash said.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a mosquito-borne infection of wild birds that can be transmitted to other birds, humans, horses and other animals by mosquitoes. It occurs in the eastern half of the United States and is regarded as one of the more serious mosquito-borne diseases. There is an effective EEE vaccine for horses and birds, but there is no licensed EEE vaccine for people.
While cases of EEE in humans are rare, they are serious when they occur. EEE attacks the central nervous system, causing sudden fever, muscle pains and a headache of increasing severity, often followed quickly by seizures and coma. Horse owners should make sure they vaccinate their horses against EEE, to protect their animals and any humans they come into contact with.
Camden County reminds residents that while the chances of contracting West Nile Virus or EEE are low, the following safeguards should be taken to minimize exposure:
- Check for any object that holds water for more than a few days. All pre-adult mosquito stages (eggs, larvae and pupae) must be in stagnant water in order to develop into adult mosquitoes.
- Swimming pools are a common problem. All pools must be checked and maintained to keep them mosquito-free. Swimming pools can breed mosquitoes within days after you stop adding chlorine or other disinfectant. Pool covers can catch rainwater and become a mosquito development site. Add a little chlorine to kill mosquitoes.
- Maintain screens to prevent adult mosquitoes from entering your home or business.
- Personal protection is strongly urged if you are outside when mosquitoes may be active—generally at dawn and dusk. Insect repellants containing between 10 and 35 percent DEET are very effective, but be sure to follow the label directions and take extra precautions with children and infants.
The Camden County Mosquito Commission suggests checking around your yard for mosquito-breeding containers. The following is a checklist of tips to help eliminate mosquito breeding:
- Dispose of unnecessary containers that hold water. Containers you wish to save turn upside down or put holes in the bottom so all water drains out.
- Lift up flowerpots and dump the water from the dish once a week.
- Stock fish or add mosquito larvicide to ornamental ponds.
- Change water in bird baths, fountains, and animal troughs weekly.
- Screen vents to septic and other water tanks.
- Store small boats upside down and large boats so they drain. If covered, keep the tarp tight so water does not pool on top of the tarp.
- Do not dump leaves or grass clippings into a catch basin or streams.
- Do not allow water to collect on sagging tarps or awnings.
- Do not allow trashcan lids to fill with water.